I don’t like Discord, and I haven’t really made a secret of the fact. For a lot of people, however, this is a point of confusion. “It’s like Skype but better; what’s not to love?”
In an effort to avoid having to repeat myself, I thought I’d compile a list here that I can just link people when this question is inevitably raised again. While I’ve tried to explain the thinking behind my points, this is not intended to be argumentative, just a quick dump of my viewpoint.
With that out of the way, here’s the list:
- Lack of data control
- Bad client
- Fundamentally closed
Lack of data control
Not to state the obvious, but with Discord all messages are stored remotely. This leaves individual users very much at their mercy, and carries with it a variety of privacy and functionality-related concerns.
Additionally, they don’t comply with Do Not Track requests, purportedly because of a lack of standardization. I don’t really buy that, and if they’re going to track because they want to they ought to just be upfront about it.
Between tracking data and actual logs/pictures, Discord stores a lot of extremely valuable information. Data is money, after all. While various employees have stated that they have no intention of selling data to third parties, they’re in no way bound to that, and if they so wanted could change that entirely.
Discord offers the option of deleting both messages and pictures. However, there’s no way to know whether these are actually deleted or just no longer made available to users! As far as I can tell, deleting an image does remove it from their CDN, but beyond that there’re no guarantees. Again, even if they come out and say they’re not, you a) have to just trust them on it and b) have no way of knowing if that changes.
Ho boy, do I have a lot to say here. First, some background. Discord’s ‘desktop client’ uses ElectronJS or something similar, I forget. It’s basically a separate instance of stripped down chromium with node and some extra stuff thrown on top. This is by no means something unique to them, it is a fairly recent trend that has some drawbacks.
Also worth noting that while BetterDiscord currently exists (the entire client just runs on js so figuring out how it works is not a difficult process), it’s unsupported and only fixes some of these problems. I wouldn’t be surprised if they tried to take steps to eliminate its usage, but we’ll see.
Lack of features
Let’s start with the obvious: the official client lacks essential functionality that has existed in most chatting programs since the dawn of time.
Discord, unfortunately, does not have an official way to download chatlogs locally or to even search them. Currently the closest to replicating this functionality is to access the site from a browser and use Ctrl+F. Unfortunately, it only loads a few hundred messages at a time, and to get more you have to manually scroll. This is extremely tedious in even a moderately active channel, and makes searching for something more than a week old basically impossible.
While Skype has a host of issues, this is one thing it does do that Discord, for god knows what reason, doesn’t. This feature exists in Notepad, for god’s sake. Surely adding this essential feature to the main client shouldn’t take over a year!
There’s also no record of admin activity whatsoever. This is another thing that’s supposedly happening, but it’s been a while.
Discord does include ‘Block’ functionality, in which you can turn off PMs from someone and, in theory, not see their messages. Unfortunately, in practice this doesn’t work the way ignore does on IRC. Instead of just not seeing their messages, they’re hidden with a giant bar. It’s distracting; if I don’t want to deal with someone, I don’t need a constant reminder every time they speak.
Unlike pretty much every half-decent IRC client in existence, Discord offers basically no customization options outside of a ‘Compact’ mode that hides avatars and removes some padding and the ability to decide whether or not images are previewed. Want to change literally anything else? Something like, say, the font size? Tough luck!
OK, Discord is new and fast-moving. I get that. The alternatives, however, have been around for ages and are about as reliable as you could possibly ask for. I’ve never had message duplication (a constant annoyance on Discord) on IRC, and I’ve never had issues with Mumble’s mute feature breaking, or not being able to hear anyone else despite receiving the traffic. This is far from an exhaustive list of issues I’ve had, though these two in particular have occurred for me multiple times. Some other recent examples include images not appearing at all, the userlist only showing half of the online users, and the chat randomly scrolling up when people send new messages.
It also, occasionally, chews up a ton of resources, either memory or processor. I’ve no idea what causes this, and it’s most likely that it’s related to the underlying technologies they’re using and no direct fault of the Discord devs. However, they chose to build their app on this, and in the end, I’ve never, ever, had this issue with any of the IRC clients I’ve used (and haven’t heard others complain about it either). It’s just not a problem.
Rizon, one of the IRC networks I’m most active on, has netsplits (where a server is disconnected from the others for maintenance purposes or otherwise) often enough that it’s jokingly referred to as ‘Rizoff’. However, this is still not nearly as frequent as Discord’s service issues. Again, while not all of these are directly their fault, at the end of the day they’re frequent enough to be extremely annoying, and far more frequent than any IRC network that I frequent.
Discord is, at its core, a business. All of their software, from server to client, is closed-source, and their protocol is undocumented. With an open standard like IRC and corresponding open-source software, you can have far more confidence in the software you’re running on your computer, and have a far greater level of control over what happens. In fact, a lot of the earlier issues stem from this very fact.
I’ve no interest in the license wars or the debate over whether open-source is always better. That being said, in Discord’s case it’s a pretty clear disadvantage, and it’s very unlikely to change. While some companies do make plenty of money off open-source software, Discord has made very clear that they have no intention of pursuing that route, and frankly I doubt investors would be fans of that approach anyway.
On the subject of investors and closed-source software, let’s keep in mind that Discord’s continued existence is by no means a guarantee. While they’ve received 30 million in VC funding, they don’t have any clear monetization strategy (and I’m not sure there ever can be an effective one outside of selling data), and running voice servers and image hosting for a large userbase is not cheap. Them having monetary issues down the road wouldn’t really surprise me. I could very well see them appearing on Our Incredible Journey.
WhenIf something like this occurs, who the hell knows what’s going to happen to your info. They might let you download it all, but it could also very well disappear into the void (or an advertiser’s database). An open standard like IRC, however, has been around for 20 years, and is almost certainly going to still be around in another 20.
So then, what do I recommend in place of Discord whenever possible? Primarily, IRC, Mumble, and an external image/video-hosting service. In my case, I run both Mumble and image-hosting myself, off a reasonably-priced VPS. There’s nothing stopping you from usinga public Mumble server, or imgur/vgy.me, though. As far as mobile IRC clients go, I’ve found HoloIRC, despite being abandoned, to be the least bad option. Friends also tell me that Riot is a fairly good platform with an IRC bridge and decent mobile client, so if having something pretty and/or web-based matters to you that might be worth checking out.
It’s worth noting that Discord’s mobile client is vastly better than every mobile IRC client I’ve tried. In fact, I suspect it having a decent, aestetically-pleasing mobile client has been a huge part of its adoption (alongside how godawful Skype is and the fact that people find IRC scary). Please, someone, make a nice mobile IRC client so I can remove this paragraph. Thanks <3